Checkers vs Chess in Real Estate

While my record as a listing agent is second to none with a 107% average sale above listing price, I spend 80% of my time as a buyer’s agent. Why? Because a) we’re in a seller’s market, b) buyers tend to be younger than sellers so that c) buyers search the Internet for good information and find my blog. Therefore, you can bet I’ve talked to enough first- and second-time investors to understand the weight that this decision has on their livelihoods, futures, and all the work they’ve put into getting where they are now: at the cusp of climbing America’s class structure.

That’s why I take it so personally when a listing agent or her seller messes around in order to earn an extra $5,000 or 0.5% on their purchase price. For the seller, it’s an extra $5k. For my buyer, an entire life’s savings or inheritance is at risk. My job as an agent both on the listing and buyer’s side always involves considering my client’s larger financial picture and advising according to life plans. You can’t discuss a real estate decision without thinking about a client’s daily life and goals. It’s not a stock or bond; it’s a living, physical, very expensive investment that takes care and attention, and affects tenants’ lives directly.

So why the rant? I’ve been an agent for multifamily and single family residential real estate for four years now. Speaking honestly, there aren’t many Princeton graduates who become realtors – if I skipped college altogether I could make as much money as I do now. Real estate came into my life because of the larger picture: retiring early from my real estate investments. Most residential realtors aren’t business-minded in that way and understand that a lot of pounding pavement and making neighborhood connections and self-marketing could earn them a six-figure salary. I’m not that kind of realtor, and I never intended to be. So when a long-time realtor invokes her 20 years of experience and justifies her backhanded and illegal move by claiming “her client’s interests,” I bite my tongue while in the background I call the guild lawyer and prepare for every chess move. (I can beat you at chess. Especially if that chess game involves nuances of Southern California’s standard purchase contract.) You may have been in practice for the past twenty years but the contract has changed 10 times in the last four.

The thing is, while I never worry when it comes to my client’s legal and leveraged position since I set them up right, for a buyer, any sign of less than reputable action by the seller’s side can set nerves aflame. Buyers have enough to worry about from the property condition to title to their loan. It’s an emotional time for most buyers, and it’s easy to forget that real estate is one of the oldest businesses whose barrier to entry involves no morals nor reputation nor license. While an agent requires a license, if she is acting on her “client’s interest” she could attempt anything and justify it as such. 

When I’m selling a property, the reputation of the agent is one of the biggest qualifiers for an offer. When I’m buying, the due diligence period and the property must speak for itself. Though an agent’s checkers tactics don’t work in a game of chess, I’d rather not play games at all and work together in order to give our clients the best possible transaction experience.

On that note, I’d like to name several agents and colleagues with whom I’ve worked who have been stellar partners in this endeavor, while truly representing their clients’ best interests (in chronological order): Carlos Skubacz, Donna Rue, Francesca Zummo, Yolanda Gomez, Gavin Fleminger, Bill Rojas, Diane Herlofsky, Venus Martinez, and others. 

In multifamily real estate, a good deal for a buyer usually comes in differences of $100,000 and a secure investment. For sellers, they celebrate if they get $5,000 more than the market suggested. I contest that, in my experience, you can have it all: a wonderful transaction where both sides win. 

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